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Does Georgia have a “Plain Smell” Law?

Officers in Georgia can search you or your vehicle if they smell marijuana.

While the Fourth Amendment protects all Americans from an unlawful search and seizure, there are instances in which law enforcement can search a person or vehicle without first obtaining a warrant. This is known as probable cause, and it is an issue that is often raised in drunk driving cases. However, now some are wondering if officers are allowed to search a vehicle based on the fact that they smell marijuana.

The Plain Smell Doctrine

The Plain Smell Doctrine states that when law enforcement officers smell marijuana or any other contraband, that alone provides enough probable cause for them to search a vehicle. Officers may also search a person if they smell marijuana on him or her.

In Georgia, there is no legal statute defining the Plain Smell law. However, case law has provided a precedent for courts to use in the future. The most notable case relating to the Plain Smell doctrine was Caffee v. State.

In this case, Caffee was pulled over for an expired tag on his vehicle. The officer believed he smelled marijuana and asked Caffee to step outside of the vehicle. After performing a search, the officer only found two empty bottles that still contained the smell of marijuana. After determining that the smell had dissipated once Caffee exited the car, they then searched Caffee’s person. It was then that they found less than an ounce of marijuana in his pocket.

Caffee was arrested on possession charges. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the officer had reasonable cause to search both the vehicle and Caffee’s person, and to make the arrest.

Differences in Probable Cause to Search vs. Stop

While it is possible for police to arrest someone based on a search after smelling marijuana, it is important that those accused are aware of their rights, as well. Although law enforcement can perform a search based on probable cause, they must also have probable cause to stop a vehicle before the search is conducted.

In the case of Caffee v. State, law enforcement did have probable cause to stop the vehicle. Caffee’s tag had expired, and that is a violation of Georgia’s traffic laws. However, had Caffee’s tag been current and there was no other violation of the law, police would not have had enough probable cause to stop the vehicle. Therefore, the search would never have been conducted.

Were You Arrested After a Search? Contact Our Georgia Criminal Defense Attorneys

The lines separating lawful and unlawful searches become blurry at times. If you are facing charges based on evidence found in a search, you are likely wondering if the search was legal. At Ghanayam & Rayasam, we are the criminal defense attorneys in Georgia who can help.

After reviewing your case, we will determine if a search was lawful and if not, we will present arguments to the court to have any evidence gathered in that search thrown out. If the search was lawful, we will present other arguments to have your charges reduced or dismissed altogether. Call us today at (404) 561-0202 or reach out to us online for your free consultation so we can begin reviewing your case.

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